Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why I Didn't Quit Academia

There have been a spate of posts about why folks have quit academia.... so much so that Dan Drezner issued a challenge:
So, I decided to figure out why I did not quit.  Sure, looking backwards from where things stand now, it would have been a mistake to quit.  Things have worked out really well for me, but that was hardly foreseeable and there were a couple of points along the way where quitting might have made sense:
  • It took me three years to land a tenure track position, enduring a second  year of VAP-ing (being a visiting assistant professor) at a place where I had lost the competition for the TT position in my first year.  A year of dead man walking was not entirely super.
  • I had a TT position in a dysfunctional department in a place I didn't want to live.  I spent several years trying to leave, but did not cash in on the few interviews I was able to get each of my last few years there.
  • While on a fellowship in DC, I could have bailed, but I did not look for any policy jobs in the DC area.
  • I spent several years trying to get out of Quebec, but did not consider seriously quitting the academy
The reality is that I never really seriously considered quitting, although that would have become a serious consideration had I not gotten the TT job in the middle of my third year on the market.  Why didn't I quit or think about it seriously when things looked bad.?
  1. I never had to adjunct.  I can barely imagine how folks can endure adjuncting for any lenght of time.
  2. I have a crappy imagination?  In grad school, when I tried to imagine alternative career paths, I came up with no realistic options: I could be a policeman, a firefighter, etc.  I just didn't think I could do anything else.  Turns out that there is nothing else I would rather do.
  3. I am risk averse: I'd rather live where I would not want to live and profess and have a certain paycheck than try to do something with far less job security.
  4. I really, really like this job.
Yep, even as a VAP in a department containing a few hostiles, I really liked teaching, I really enjoyed researching stuff that I found interesting, and I really liked being in control over what I was doing when I was doing it.  This business has a lot of constraints---well, one big one: you cannot choose where you live.  But you can control pretty much everything else.  

I have endured more bad department chairs than good ones, yet the nature of the job means that they can only do so much damage.  In my previous job, the chair and I had a very hostile relationship, but there was only so much he could do to me.  I could still engage in the research that thrilled me (see theforthcoming  book), I could still teach sharp students and do it in a fun way (no Halloween costumes this year, alas), and I could still do the service stuff for the discipline. 

All along the way, I have depended on smart, sweet people who helped me get through the hard times.  Indeed, I have had a heap of fun along the way, with many lunches, poker games, parties, and other interactions that made the going easier.  I so enjoy going to conferences as these provide opportunities to catch up with the folks who were so very supportive.  

So, why didn't I quit?  The job itself is very sweet if one values the freedom to engage one's curiosity and delights in exchanging ideas with young people (ug, that makes me sound old).  Combine  with the amazing people that I have worked with, drinked with, teased, been teased by, and so on, and it is easier to see why I have not looked to the exit.

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